Old Integrated Amplifiers in Today's Modern World
We’re audiophiles. We can’t help it—we like this stuff. We like listening to the gear as well as to the music. We enjoy having a so-called “educated” ear and being able to pick out subtle nuances and sonic traits as we listen to different electronics and speakers. (No! Not different cables and connectors. That’s where I draw the line. Your mileage may vary.) Whether we’re trying to hear differences or not, they just jump out at us. Once you speak audiophilia, you hear it and you understand it, automatically. It’s as if you also know Italian as well as English and when you hear someone at the next table speaking Italian, you’ll understand it, whether you were intentionally listening or not.
I have a really nice—nearly “killer”—system in my man cave/music room: 5 ft-tall reference-quality tower speakers, separate pre-amp/power amp combo with 400 watts RMS per side, a great CD player with Burr-Brown DACs, and the room is treated acoustically to be just right. Those of you who have heard this system at my house know how good it is—smooth, detailed, uncolored, astonishingly deep and effortless. Sonic nirvana. I have no “upgrade itch” whatsoever. None.
Boston Acoustics VR-M50 Monitors
In the family room, the music system is a bit less extreme, although still quite nice: The speakers are the truly superb Boston Acoustics VR-M50 5 ¼” 2-way monitors, reinforced by the equally-excellent Boston Acoustics 1000-watt PV-1000 subwoofer.
By the way, the PV-1000 goes really loud. You can see it on the volume control. It goes to “12.” Even louder than the “11” of the amp on ‘Spinal Tap.’ Yes, we did that on purpose when I was at BA. A corporate sense of humor, just to see if anyone was paying attention.
The system electronics were a Parasound P/HP-850-HCA-1000 pre-power combo, 100 per side.
Parasound HCA-1000 Power Amp Parasound HCA-1000 Protruding Rear Connectors
The operative word here is “were.” The Parasounds were just a hair too deep for the shelves of the entertainment unit. The furniture has about 13-14 usable inches of depth, but the clearance for the connections and control knobs meant that you couldn’t quite latch the entertainment door tightly shut. If you did, something bad would happen. And it did, inadvertently, on several occasions. If you latched the door closed, the inside of the door would touch and click the on-off rocker-styled power switch on the HCA-1000 amplifier to ‘on.’ Great. A high-powered amp in now powered ‘on’ in a tight, closed entertainment compartment. The heat would build up and when I’d finally notice the next time I went to use the system—sometimes the next day, sometimes a week later—the amp would be hot.
I’d turn it off, hopping mad that this happened yet again, let it cool and then turn it back on for use.
Never a problem. But I guess I tempted fate once too often, because the amp just recently (well a year ago, which in my procrastination-prone new reality qualifies as “just recently”) became intermittent. Sounds fine, then one channel becomes distant and distorted, then it ‘pops’ back in and sounds fine again. And so on.
Power amp output device damaged by excessive heat? Pre-amp capacitor damaged from the radiant heat of the amp sharing the same compartment? Something else? Who knows. I don’t see my resident engineering genius Paul Ceurvels every day anymore since I no longer work at Atlantic Technology, so I have no one to take these units to for a look-see.
Out they go next week, to the electronics recycling firm in the neighboring town. They’ll probably keep them for themselves and fool around with them. Fine with me. I’ve had them since 2002, so I got 15 good years out of them, before my own carelessness torpedoed them. (One of them is fine—I just have no way of knowing which one.)
So, the search began for replacement electronics. I decided on a single-unit solution, no more separate pre-power for this room, in the entertainment unit. I also had a strict requirement that the new unit fit properly on the shelf and couldn’t be accidentally powered on by closing the door.
After a lot of searching and investigating, I decided on this very nice Onkyo integrated amp, the A-9050. A nice, uncomplicated, straightforward amp with a very familiar-type front panel control layout. 70/70 RMS. More than enough power, especially considering that a) we don’t listen loudly in this room and b) the PV-1000 subwoofer’s 1000 watts do the heavy lifting for the current-hungry bass frequencies anyway. The Onkyo’s 70 wpc have it easy.
I ordered it from Amazon (where else?), it came in free shipping in three days (my wife has Prime) and I set it up the next weekend. Taking the Parasounds out of the entertainment unit, disconnecting the speaker switcher (we have speakers running off this system in three rooms), disconnecting the Technics CD player, the sub, re-doing all the cables and wires, etc., it’s a royal pain, to be sure. But once every 15 years, I can do this.
The Onkyo looks great, very much in the same mold as those great Pioneer-Kenwood-Sansui integrated amps from the 1970’s. It’s heavy and gutsy, but unlike the old units, this has a remote control. Ooooh…
Onkyo A-9050 Integrated Amplifier
Sounds great—clean, sharp, detailed. Plenty of juice. Everything is fine. I do notice, however, that it sounds just ever-so-slightly “leaner” than the Parasounds. Now, I’m not doing any kind of level-matched double-blind A-B, so I have no scientific reason on which to base my impressions.
Just that I’m an audiophile and I speak the language, whether I’m listening for it or not. Like hearing Italian from the next table when you speak fluent Italian, like I said before. You hear it, you understand it, automatically, without even trying.
No sweat—I go over to the Boston sub, raise the crossover frequency from 80 to 100Hz to get a tad more overlap with the VR-M50’s (I’m running them full-range) and I goose the sub level up one tick. Leanness gone. Tonal balance is perfecto. I love it. All is well.
I happened to stumble across an on-line review of the Onkyo A-9050 and they said, “Plenty to like, but a slightly lean presentation.”
I kid you not. I’ve still got it.
Uh-oh. Houston, We Have a Problem.
Everything was fine with the Onkyo 9050 for about a year and a half. Then I went to turn the amp on to amplify the cable TV sound and all I got was the muffled sound of the BA PV-1000 subwoofer. At first, I was confused. I thought I had selected the wrong input or something and as soon as I pressed the correct button, everything would come back on.
The outputs, apparently, are dead. How or why it happened, I have no idea. The amp was fine the previous time I’d played it. What a pain. I ordered the amp from Amazon, so there’s no store to take it back to. (Isn’t the Internet wonderful?) I went on Onkyo’s web site and looked up Repair/Warranty Centers and found out that the nearest one to my zip code is 264 miles away, in Schenectady NY. Great. I’ll swing by on my way home from work.
My wife is really annoyed. “How am I supposed to listen to music when I’m in the kitchen and how am I going to play CDs for the grandkids when they’re here?”
I still have to try connecting one of the speaker pairs directly to the amp’s speaker terminals on the very off-chance that somehow something failed in the Parasound speaker switcher that caused all three speaker pairs to go dark. I can’t think of how that might occur (a weak solder joint that finally failed, causing all the series-connected speaker pairs to fall silent? Are they even wired in series?), but in the interests of complete investigation, I have to check that box and check that box.
What if it is the Onkyo, as I suspect it is? What am I supposed to do—box it up in an innocuous, unmarked outer carton, immune from being too tempting to steal, insure it and ship it off to some hole-in-the-wall in Schenectady? It’ll probably cost at least $75-$100 to insure it and ship it out and back. It’s still under “warranty,” but it’ll hardly be a free repair.
If I could find a good local audio repair guy who could trouble-shoot it and fix it himself for the same price, I’d rather do that.
Are there any audio repair guys anymore? The hunt has commenced…..stay tuned.
The Rest of the Story
Ok, fast forward from late last year to around springtime of this year. I get an e-mail from my cousin (himself also an incurable audiophile) that he has my old Kenwood KA-7002 amplifier and wants to know if I want it; do I have any use for it. Now, I’d originally gotten this amp in 1972 (the summer after my HS graduation) and it served with distinction as the centerpiece of my stereo system (with the companion KT-7001 tuner), along with my AR-2ax speakers and various turntable/cartridge combinations through the years. I used it all through college and well into my first post-college apartment. It was a great amp.
Kenwood KA-7002 Integrated Amplifier
I replaced it in 1980 with a later-generation Kenwood KA-8100/KT-8300 amp-tuner combo that I purchased on closeout, for pricing just too good to ignore. It was strictly an “upgrade itch” purchase—the 7000’s always sounded great. There were no performance shortcomings.
I probably took the 7000’s back to my parents’ house and stored them in our basement where all the other retired stereo equipment lived. Dad and I never got rid of anything, we just brought it downstairs. I certainly didn’t give the 7002 away, so when my cousin said, “I’ve got your Kenwood 7002 amp, want it?”, I was shocked. Why did he have the amp in the first place? He was probably visiting my folks one day a long time ago, moseyed downstairs where he knew we kept our retired equipment, spotted the 7002 amp and said, “Hey Uncle Abe, I’m gonna borrow this for a short time, just to play around with it. I’ll bring it right back.” Yeah, 39 years later, “right back….”
Anyway, I said to him, sure, I’ll take it, so at some family get-together the hand-off was made. Still in its original carton, with owner’s manual and the bill of sale from Tech Hi-Fi in August 1972. (That’s how Dad and I did things. We kept it all. Those of you with original cartons in your basements and wives with raised eyebrows will understand perfectly.)
It was in our basement and Raff said to me, “What are you going to do with this? What is it?” I told her it was a stereo amp that I’d had from the time I was 18-26 years old and I was going to see if I could get it up to snuff. My cousin had tried it out before he gave it to me and said it seemed to work fine, but I wanted to be sure.
I did an Internet search on “refurbishing vintage stereo equipment” and a lot of hits came up. One was relatively local, called Atlantic Systems (no relation to Atlantic Technology where I used to work), located in Hanover MA, about 45 minutes away from where I live. I e-mailed them, described the 7002, and said I had the schematic (those were actually included as SOP with the manual in those days!), could they do anything? They said sure, bring it in.
So I go there, a little hole-in-the-wall in a small nondescript strip center off the main road. It’s manned by two late middle-aged guys, refreshingly nerdy-looking, get-a-lifer audio types. There are units everywhere, some completed, awaiting pick-up and some just recently brought in. An Audio Precision diagnostic unit is clearly visible from the back room. Perfect.
I show then the amp. They smile. “Sure, we can do this. We’ll go through it, clean all the contacts, replace anything that needs replacing and make sure it’s good. Give us a few weeks. $50 deposit, please.” I hand over the dough. I say, “Make sure all the speaker outputs work. I have three sets of speakers that will be connected, and I will be using them all.”
“Well, careful now, “ Paul, the owner, admonishes me, in a slightly condescending but fatherly tone. “You can’t actually use all three sets at once. There’s something called ‘impedance’ and you……”
I explain to him who I am, and he smiles.
A few weeks later, they leave a message. “All set. $125 total, so it’ll be another $75.” Cheap enough, I thought.
I go to get it. “What ended up needing replacement? How bad was it?”
“Well, actually, nothing. It was perfect. All the caps, the output devices, the lamps, everything worked just fine. Some of the switches were dirty and noisy, so we cleaned those, but everything else was good. This thing is built like a tank. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, that’s for sure.”
Ok. I trust you. I take it home and procrastinate about hooking it up into the den system, mainly because the thought is daunting. All those connections –the BA sub (the 7002 doesn’t have a ‘sub out’—powered subs weren’t around in those days—but it does have pre-out/main-in jacks, which are exactly the same thing minus bass management, which I did in the sub anyway), the cable box, the CD and three sets of speakers. (The Kenwood has A, B and C speaker terminals, so I don’t need the speaker switcher any longer.) The 7002’s speaker terminals are the worst kind—tiny knurled knobs around very small, closely-spaced posts. You have to make a “j” out of the wire, hook it over the post and hope it doesn’t jump off when you tighten the knob. Three sets of speakers, L/R, +/-. 12 connections altogether. Upside down. In a dark space. I hate this. The heck with audio purity, I’d have killed for spring terminals.
Finally, done. After a few choice expletives appropriately expended to ease the process along, I slide the amp into place in the entertainment unit and hope that it works, that it really is fine like the Atlantic boys said it was and that I actually didn’t make any connection errors.
I switch to ‘Aux 1’ which is the CD player. (No CD players in 1972!) I grab the nearest CD. It’s an Eddie Daniels CD on GRP, great recording. I press play. Success! The BA VR-M50 5 ¼-in 2-ways sound great and the PV-1000 sub is operating properly. (Yup, ‘pre-out’ is just like ‘sub out.’) I switch the speaker selector to ‘B’ and go to the dining room. The corner-mounted BA Voyagers are playing and sounding good. I switch to ‘C’ and go out into the three-season porch and the Atlantic 424s sound great. Hadn’t heard those in quite a while.
Now I turn on the TV to see if that’s connected properly. The sub is thumping away, but there’s no dialog. What? What’s wrong? Do I have to pull it out and re-check every connection? Did something drop off?
No, everything was fine. It was “operator error!” I never switched the speakers back to ‘A’ when I turned on the TV, so the dialog was going to the C speakers on the back porch and I couldn’t hear it in the den. After the realization (and a big sigh of relief), I switch to ‘A’ and all is good.
So there you have it. My Kenwood KA-7002, 47 years old, is back in first-line use. It sounds great, clean as a whistle, gutsy, powerful, plenty of juice. I still have the original Julian Hirsch test report in Stereo Review from 1972, so I went back and re-read it. Made me smile.
Closing the Loop
What about my Onkyo A-9050 amp, the one whose failure started this whole process? Well, I figured that packing it up, insuring it and shipping it off to Schenectady NY (the nearest Onkyo warranty repair station) 264 miles away wasn’t going to be an exercise with a successful outcome. So I brought it to Atlantic Systems for a look-see. Two weeks later, they called and said it was ready. I go to get it and when I get there, I ask what was wrong.
“Nothing, actually. Even though this is a stereo amp—not a digital surround-sound unit—it still has some digital circuitry inside. A few processors, a digital/optical input, etc. It was ‘frozen,’ just needed to be re-set. That just means unplugged and re-plugged in, sort of like when the cable company tells you the first thing to try is unplugging the cable box, waiting for a minute or two, then plugging it in again.”
“How often will this happen and if I simply unplug it—physically—and re-plug it again will this fix it?”
“There’s no way to know how often it will happen. My guess is you had a momentary power outage—even just a split second, not long enough for your microwave and stove to start flashing 12:00—and that necessitated a re-set. That’ll be $90 please.”
So for $90, I have the Onkyo back—probably less than shipping/insuring to and from Upstate NY would have been. It’s in the box, in my basement (where else?) but I haven’t tried it. Probably works, but I’m riding that Kenwood horse as long and far as it will take me. My impression is that it’s a real thoroughbred.
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Recent Forum Posts:
JeffV, post: 1348588, member: 89977
Great article. Proves what I've known for about 5 years now…that vintage gear was “made to be repaired” which has resulted in it lasting for 50+ years. There are still a few of us around that know how to fix the old stuff - it's great fun and, having been inside nearly every make from the 60-70's, I can say that they are generally very well designed and will sound as good or better than most comparably priced modern gear.
Everything was “made t be repaired” at that time but the main thing is that the manufacturers have changed their model from being willing to providing service parts to only wanting to sell finished products. They no longer authorize and train service people all over the country, partially because people aren't learning to repair electronics in the numbers they once did. Also, printing and shipping service manuals would be prohibitively expensive now- they changed to CD-ROM in the ‘90s and once the internet was live, to web-based training, rather than people traveling to major cities where the manufacturers had some kind of headquarters or factory service center. In addition, the new equipment uses digital circuitry, which is completely different in how to diagnose and repair- some parts can’t even be removed and re-used because the heat from the iron destroys them. Small parts are installed by machine far faster than humanly possible and so much of them are surface-mount that it's just not worth the time to replace individual components, so most repairs are board and module swaps.
One thing I liked in some brands of equipment was the way they used linen cord to wrap wire bundles, rather than plastic anchors or tie wraps- it was so orderly and neat.
M Code, post: 1348461, member: 43612
70/80s' Japanese integrated amplifiers were built like a tank, conservative specs, only weakness coming to my mind was the phono preamp circuits, limited SNR and a higher noise floor. But many had MM & MC capability…
Just my $0.02…
I had two Sony integrated amps (TA-4650 and TA-F6B) that had plenty of S/N ratio and when I started using moving coil cartridges, I had the 4650 but no MC preamp. I could still get a decent level from it. One of the reasons I went to the TA-F6B is that it did have MC capability and more power- never had a problem with noise with either of them.
I was working at a stereo shop that also carried Pioneer and even with it's 270W/channel rating, I couldn't get enough level from an SX-1980 with the same model of cartridge for it to be usable. That DID have a noisier phono section, too. The Pioneer integrated amps were good, but I don't remember them being as quiet as the Sony and not all had preamp out/power amp in, which I wanted. Didn't always need that, but it was something I did use on occasion